Seeing not First of all, the familiar noise is the closest thing I will probably ever experience to seeing gorge in theaters in the summer of 1975. Of all the films I’ve had the good fortune to review, few have been as difficult to review as Jordan Peele’s new film – not because I don’t have much to say about it, but because I’m too afraid to say too much.
notThe film’s clever publicity campaign has glossed over much of the film’s narrative and themes (which for Peele are always the same anyway), and my anxiety about diving too deep isn’t a reflection that the film is only interesting for its heavy-handed revelation- preserved events, as much as an acknowledgment that the film is so contained and original that it should not be taken, should not be digested, in any way other than intact and complete.
The story is about two siblings – Otis Jr., “OJ,” (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald, “Em” (Keke Palmer) – who run their family’s historic movie business, wrangling horses for filming. movies. The company is called Haywood’s Hollywood Horses, and the two are members of film royalty, descendants of the rider who rode the horse in Eadweard Muybridge’s famous 1878 motion picture study that became the first film clip when his shots were designed in turn. They live on a horse ranch in a remote, scenic Southern California valley, surrounded by the kind of brightly colored, dusty hills that would make John Ford drool. And it is in this valley that strange events begin to happen and OJ sees something in the sky that looks like a flying saucer.
Although not it’s a veritable carnival of analysis, it’s still extremely accessible and enjoyable as entertainment.
The siblings don’t quite know what to do, especially since the presence doesn’t exactly seem peaceful, but Em believes that capturing it on film will provide their farm with attention and money that they can use to save their business, which has been in the doldrums since the death of their father (the great Keith David).
To stay afloat, OJ has had to sell some of their horses – many to Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yuen), a former child star and now impresario of a nearby Wild West experience, an immersive, recreated Old West amusement park town called Jupiter’s Claim. Jupe is the survivor of a traumatic, near-death experience that occurred on a television set he starred in as a child, in which an animal went berserk, and he has processed this experience by turning it into different types of entertainment, time and time. again.
This opens up the film’s main discourse, which is about the relationship between “spectacle” (a common word) and experiences of horror, terror and danger; that transforming terrifying, unfamiliar encounters into fun is how people are able to cope with these things—especially, unfamiliar encounters with the natural world. The film is very much about the differences between humans and animals and the ultimate power of nature. Her thesis is about the uncertainty of human intervention, the ultimate impossibility of our attempts to control and corral creatures and forces that are ultimately not like us. The fact that the siblings can only try to deal with the UFO (an entity so powerful and mysterious to them) by capturing it on film is a perfect summary of this theme. Filming something removes the spectator from the subject, makes it legible and safe.
The film has a lot to say about the differences between seeing something and “seeing” it from the safety of the simulacrum – so much so that after I got home, I happily pulled my old film theory books off my shelves. and I browsed essays by Christian Metz, Laura Mulvey, and Thomas Elsaesser. not is so tight and so rich and has so much to say about our relationship with film that I want to write a term paper on it instead of a review; I want to go deep into how it unfolds meaning and furthers the conversation about “the look” and “the gaze” and other semi-Lacanian philosophies of what film, and entertainment in general, really does to us.
not has much to say in this regard, even before establishing a family connection between himself and the first films ever made, Muybridge’s sequential photographs. The whole film is about the cameras, everything about the lens, everything about the capture. It is, appropriate for its Wild West environment, a deep reflection on “shooting” something, taking its likeness, trying to recognize it visually.
Although the film is a veritable carnival of analysis, it is still remarkably accessible and enjoyable as entertainment. In fact, it’s fun with a capital E! Although the movie is not a horror movie in itselffloats along, neatly building tension and occasionally peppering it with genuine scares, before galloping into a heart-pounding third act.
Peele is a master at creating iconic images and it’s clear to watch not how soon so many of his aesthetic flourishes will become indelible in the history of film. Indeed, the film is a visual playground, incorporating innovative optical touches with just the right amount of cinematic nostalgia.
Its characters, too, are superbly designed, archetypal enough to fit together while also feeling memorable on their own terms – brought to life by an incredibly talented cast. The performances in not are some of the best of the year; Palmer musters a perfect balance of bouncy charisma and brute strength, while Kaluuya’s stoic brother manages (like his power suit) to draw endless pathos from silence and subtlety.
Gravel-voiced Michael Wincott plays a grizzled filmmaker who’s seen it all but nothing like this – a veteran among the crew who remembers gorge‘s Quint. And as a chatty electronics store employee/UFO enthusiast named Angel who ends up intrigued by the siblings’ mission, Brandon Perea nearly steals the show (a feat of atmospheric proportions).
The film was shot with IMAX cameras, so see it on that big screen if you can; at the end of the day it’s a film about watching, so watch it properly. It will be an additional reminder of the film’s assertion that when you can’t run and hide, all you can do is watch.